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ESEA is in Need of Improvement, Johnson Says

The Department of Public Instruction Thursday (June 3, 2004) released a list of 54 Wisconsin schools identified as being "in need of improvement" under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but WEAC President Stan Johnson said it will take much more than a simple list to guarantee that every child in Wisconsin has a great school.

"Every child deserves a great school. We all want every school to be successful and every child to achieve high standards. But this list is of little or no value in achieving those goals," Johnson said.

"It is easy to set strict and sometimes unreasonable rules, set schools up for failure and then point fingers," Johnson said. "The hard part is addressing the core social issues that cause some students to struggle in school and to provide the resources schools need to meet the needs of each and every child."

Adequate Yearly Progress

To meet the provisions of adequate yearly progress for this year, schools and districts had to have 61% of students scoring proficient or advanced in reading and 37% scoring proficient or
advanced in math on Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations and Wisconsin Alternate Assessments administered in fall 2003. Additionally, schools had to have 95% of students
participate in statewide assessments. Elementary and middle schools needed an attendance rate of 84.9%, and high schools needed a graduation rate of 81.8%, or schools had to show growth from the previous year on these indicators.

Schools that missed the same performance indicator for two consecutive years are identified for improvement. Those that receive federal Title I funds, which are targeted to schools serving
disproportionate numbers of economically disadvantaged students, also are subject to sanctions specified in the federal education law.

Benchmarks for adequate yearly progress increase next year. For 2004-05, schools must have 67.5% of students scoring proficient or advanced in reading and 47.5% scoring proficient or
advanced in math on state tests. By the 2013-14 school year, federal law requires that 100% of
students score proficient or advanced on state assessments.

The ESEA - called the No Child Left Behind law by the Bush administration - "simply does not do that," Johnson said.

"The law itself is badly in need of improvement," he said.

The proven formula for making sure every school is a great school includes small class sizes, programs to expand professional development for teachers and education support professionals, up-to-date books and materials aligned with new standards, and additional state and federal resources to implement school improvement efforts focused on where students and schools are struggling.

"The ESEA is based on a one-size-fits-all approach and emphasizes punishment instead of providing the resources and support to address challenges," Johnson said. "It fails to provide the financial resources it was envisioned to provide when it was passed by Congress."

In the three federal budgets that have passed since the ESEA was enacted, federal funding of the ESEA has fallen $17.2 billion short of promised levels for more busing, tutoring, retraining of teachers and paraprofessionals, and services to meet testing proficiency benchmarks. President Bush's fiscal year 2005 budget would shortchange students and schools by another $9.4 billion.

Last month, Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager issued an opinion finding that the federal government is requiring state governments to spend their own money to implement the law in violation of federal statutes and the Constitution. The opinion encourages school boards and the state government to challenge the law in court.

In addition, after 11 years of state-imposed school district revenue controls, Wisconsin schools are facing the enormous task of meeting new standards for achievement while struggling to find the funds needed to preserve even the most basic of education services, Johnson said. Schools are being forced to lay off teachers; increase class sizes; and cut back courses, programs and school activities.

"Wisconsin has great schools, but I don't know how we are going to maintain that quality when schools are constantly being stripped of resources. Although we agree with the goals of the ESEA, current state and federal laws seem designed to set schools up for failure," he said.

The DPI's list of 54 schools in need of improvement includes 44 in Milwaukee, two in Madison, three in Kenosha, three in Racine, and two on the Menominee Indian reservation. The schools failed to achieve "adequate yearly progress," as defined by the ESEA, for two years in a row on one or more goals related to state test scores, graduation rates or test participation. Although the list implies that each of these schools is failing its children, that's not the case, Johnson said.

To achieve "adequate yearly progress," each subgroup of students in each grade level must achieve the testing standards. Subgroups are divided by race, disability status, English proficiency status, family income, and migrant status.

Madison LaFollette High School's inclusion on the list, for example, was not based on test score results but on the fact that it fell one student short – in one subcategory – of the number of students taking one specific standardized test. In other words, if one more African-American student had taken the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, the school would not be on list.

"That points out not only the frustration of this law but the absolute ridiculousness of using this methodology," Superintendent Art Rainwater told the Wisconsin State Journal.

Schools sometimes make the list because of factors beyond its control, such as student mobility and truancy.

Under the ESEA, schools that remain on the "in need of improvement" list face a series of sanctions, including the possibilities of replacing all or most staff, entering into a contract with a private entity to operate the school, and submitting to a state takeover.

Although the number of Wisconsin schools on the ESEA list fell this year from 68 to 54, officials say the list will likely grow in the future as the government further toughens the standards.

Resource page on the ESEA
DPI news release

Posted June 4, 2004

Education News